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Father Muench Says...

Remembering the mission in Peru

October 19, 2022

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

As we’re reflecting on World Mission Sunday, I want to remind you that our Diocese of Ogdensburg sent priests to Peru, South America. They were truly foreign missionaries. It was during the time that Pope John XXIII was our Holy Father that this happened. Pope John XXIII was the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council. He also challenged the dioceses of the world who were blessed with a large number of priests to consider sending some priests – on a temporary basis – to the diocese where there was a true need for priests.

The Diocese of Ogdensburg heard this call and responded. Our bishop at that time was Bishop Navagh. He made an agreement with the Archbishop of Arequipa, Peru, making a commitment to send priests to his diocese. So, for 40 years – from 1962 until 2003 – several of our priests ministered in Peru for a time. They were truly foreign missionaries.

Our bishop began by seeking volunteers among the priests for this opportunity. Two were chosen to be the first, Father Paul Hagan and Father Roger Martin. They developed a program with the Archbishop of Arequipa to determine the best way for our priests to serve in his diocese. It was determined that our priests would establish a parish in the city of Mollendo. This parish included six mission churches in Mollendo and in the Tambo Valley. During those first years, a central parish church was built, as were parish offices and a rectory.

This parish was dedicated to St. Martin de Porras, a Peruvian lay brother of the Dominican Order known for his charitable works. He is the first Black saint of the Americas. Our priests found great support and the means to construct the new church and for the upkeep of the other buildings. So, for all these years two or three priests of our diocese ministered in South America.

I am certain that you know a priest who has spent some time in the program as a missionary to Mollendo, Peru. I would like to remind you of the priests who have volunteered and served as a part of this adventure. After Father Hagan and Father Martin, the others were: Father Bernard Kellogg, Father J. Lee Snow, Father Ed Kehoe, Father John Kennehan, Father Andy Amyot, Father Jack Branache, Father John Looby, Father Vinny Flynn, Father Daniel Chapin, Father George Maroun, Father Clark White, Father Bill Edwards, Father Jay Seymour, Father Bill Muench (yes, that’s me), Father Pat Mundy, Father Bob Decker and Father Steve Rocker.

I would like to take a moment to share with you a few of my memories of Mollendo. I am certain you can find many more stories from some of the others. I began my time in South America at the Maryknoll Language School in Cochabamba, Bolivia. While there, I was truly impressed with the many priests, religious sisters, and lay people who were preparing to spend some time as missionaries in South America. I must mention a family – a young couple and their three children – who were preparing to serve in a Protestant parish in Bolivia. They were such dedicated people who became my friends.

I then went to Mollendo, Peru, joining Father Jay Seymour in our diocesan parish. During my first months there, I found language help from a young man of the parish who visited me every day, checking up on my homilies and giving me some practice in conversation. I still hear from him.

Though this was 30 years ago, the memories are vivid. I remember the celebrations with the Masses and processions and times of prayer and such. I remember the people, especially the young people who were involved in the life of the parish. I remember the vivid beauty of the area and the joy of being part of the joy of being part of this alive parish.

One more thing I remember well also and will not forget: the parish Church in Mollendo was at the top of a hill. Standing in front of the Church and looking down, you could see much of the village. All of it flowed down to the ocean below – the Pacific Ocean – with it beautiful beaches. It was such a gorgeous sight. Though we no longer send priests to this beautiful parish, please keep these wonderful people in your prayers.

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